NAACP backs effort to end use of ‘nigger’



Early last month, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah put forth a resolution that called for people of all colors to come together, show mutual respect for each other and refrain from using the word “nigger” in all forms and contexts.

At the meeting when board president Jorge Perez asked, “will anyone deny unanimous consent on this item,” Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 rose silently from his chair, denying immediate passage and guaranteeing further official deliberation concerning Shah’s suggestion.

A public hearing is scheduled for April 30 and the aldermen will cast their final votes on May 5.

After that dramatic silence on the evening of March 3, Healey has since stated his reasons for opposition, arguing that any attempt to regulate speech is dangerous and that the resolution should be used as an opportunity to debate racial issues.

Shah, who is black, was the first critic of Healey’s bold refusal to grant the resolution unanimous consent, calling his claims about possible bowdlerization of books like “Huckleberry Finn” “ludicrous.”

“We don’t believe the word has any historical relevance because we never accepted it,” said Shah that night. “This is a term we were made to accept through slavery.”

Julian Bond, chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had high praise for the resolution and said Healey’s concerns, while valid, should not prevent the passage of the resolution.

“These words carry so much negative baggage that we’d all be better off if no one used them. I would oppose an attempt at censorship or book banning, but I think this expression is perfectly fine,” said Bond, a civil rights activist who participated in sit-ins as a college student in Atlanta.

Shah said he hopes to organize a panel of lawyers, legislators and possibly Yale historians to discuss the word, its history and meaning on Citizen’s Television some time this month. He would like Baltimore City Councilman Melvin Stukes, the first elected official in the United States to sponsor such legislation, to participate.

“It’s still unquestionably the most hated word, the most defamatory, demeaning, and caustic word in the language,” Stukes said.

Stukes said he wrote his original resolution, from which Shah borrowed bits for his own proposal, because of the recent explosion of usage of the word in hip-hop music and culture.

“Name me any other ethnic group that allows this type of word to be used against themselves,” Stukes demanded. “This is about getting rid of self-defeatist attitudes and low self-esteem.”

Stukes responded to Healey’s cautionary words about censorship rather harshly.

“We said we were in no way trying to ban anything,” Stukes said. “What’s in Huck Finn is in Huck Finn and nobody is trying to change that — This is about getting rid of hate.”

Attorney Peter Grear, editor of the weekly newspaper The Challenger in Wilmington, N.C., founded the website www.renouncenword.com and is a strong supporter of Shah’s resolution.

“I’ve been promoting the same notion since 1995,” said Grear, who is another potential participant in Shah’s planned panel. “We are trying to bring attention to what we see as a serious problem of the use and existence and all other pain that goes along with the n-word. And it’s even more important that black folks stop using that word than other races.”

Comments